COVID chaos causes crazy football

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COVID is awful. But just maybe, sometimes, it leads to better football matches.

Sunday night’s 3-3 draw between Melbourne City and Western Sydney Wanderers in the A-League Men was perhaps the best game of the season, at least from an entertainment perspective.

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The game was end-to-end, with goalscoring opportunities falling to both sides from start to finish. Several excellent goals were scored too, in what was a truly back and forth contest.

Of particular interest was the fact that the game was unlike just about any other played by either team this season.

Western Sydney looked more cohesive, at least in an attacking sense, than they had in previous games. Meanwhile City were noticeably open and vulnerable to the Wanderers’ attacks, even though in most games this season they’ve been relatively untroubled at the back.

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Of course, the circumstances heading into the game were different to most games this season.

Both teams last played in the league on December 18. City played an FFA Cup tie a few days ago, but otherwise both sides have endured serious disruptions to their match preparation.

COVID has wreaked havoc across most squads in the competition over recent weeks, and these two teams have certainly felt the effects.

Not only did it mean both teams missed matches, but also several players within each squad had missed training sessions and been isolating, which inevitably has had some effect on fitness and match-sharpness.

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City head coach Patrick Kisnorbo admitted that perhaps his team was paying the price for an interrupted training schedule, especially having played 120 minutes in the FFA Cup just a few nights ago.

“We stopped pressing the ball and there were too many turnovers in the middle,” he said.

“I think (the fatigue that comes with Covid) is one of the factors that affected us.

“It was end-to-end and a bit too transitional for me. Maybe that’s due to fatigue.”

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Kisnorbo was reflective on how he could best manage the tiredness of his players considering the circumstances.

“Knowing how many of the players have had COVID, player fatigue is something we need to look at to make sure we’re managing it right,” he said.

When pressed on why he didn’t utilise his bench more as a result, Kisnorbo pointed to the need for cool heads in a high-pressure situation.

“I think that considering the magnitude of the game, we needed to have a bit more experience. Especially because the game was so end-to-end,” he said.

Kisnorbo clearly felt that his team were less able to execute their regular game plan, particularly in a defensive sense, as a result of squad tiredness.

City’s reduced pressing capacity undoubtedly afforded the Wanderers greater freedom when in possession, which enhanced the quality and quantity of opportunities the visitors created.

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Labinot Haliti was filling in as head coach whilst Carl Robinson remained in his hotel due to illness.

Haliti was less willing to attribute the way the game played out to fatigue or anything else COVID-related, but nonetheless acknowledged the changes to his team’s ordinary structure.

“You just have to adapt. Lots of teams have gone through it,” he said.

“It freshens things up a bit and we were given the opportunity to work on some things, but of course we want to play matches.”

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Whilst for City the impact of COVID was a reduction in fitness and therefore defensive pressing, the Wanderers appear to have utilised the break to refresh their approach.

Undoubtedly the red and black side appeared reinvigorated compared to their last game against the Mariners.

Steven Ugarkovic was particularly noteworthy for how he benefitted from the extra time and space he was afforded in midfield, creating numerous excellent opportunities.

Clearly, COVID affects different teams in different ways.

Ultimately though, it may have played its part in giving us a more entertaining contest on Sunday night.

Feature Image Credit: Peter Hugg

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Oscar Rutherford
Sports tragic studying Law/Arts at Monash University. Second-best paid Oscar working in football who has been to China.

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